What should employers do to prepare for local lockdowns? Kate Palmer from HR experts Peninsula UK gives some advice.
Local lockdowns are likely to be a present worry for employers, but the first thing they should remember is that this does not necessarily mean that their business needs to close completely.
Arguably, remote working arrangements, such as homeworking, have become more commonplace and the first thing employers can do to prepare for local lockdown is to be ready to introduce or re-introduce homeworking at short notice.
If possible, some staff should be asked to work from home even in the absence of a lockdown, which could be an essential way of keeping social distancing in the workplace while maintaining normal output levels should lockdown be enforced. Employers will not need to worry about staff struggling to get into work, even if a lockdown impedes this, if they are already set up at home.
Of course, homeworking may not be an option for all businesses and employers must be ready to explore other options.
Generally, staff can still be furloughed up until the end of October under the Job Retention Scheme, provided their employer is familiar with and follows the rules. In the situation of a local lockdown, employees could be placed back on furlough until the situation passes and asked to return to work when necessary.
If staff are not able to work from home or be furloughed, employers will need to consider how to process their time away. To give another example, could staff be asked to take the time as a period of annual leave?
In this situation, employers should proceed with care; although they can enforce periods of leave, provided they provide at least twice the length of the leave in notice, employees may not respond well to losing holiday entitlements to lockdown. Alternatives could be placing staff on unpaid leave, or lay-off. However, it is likely that they will need to agree to this.
Recent comments from Health Secretary Matt Hancock tell us that lockdowns could be limited to businesses, and even buildings, if there are outbreak hotspots. The best course of action employers can arguably take to the prospect of a local lockdown is work to avoid it. Take no risks, make sure staff are aware of the rules and act swiftly if they do believe an employee has been exposed to the virus.
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